DAWAW Panels – A Fair Way to Assess New Ideas

Purpose of the Activity

A DAWAW panel is a panel of Devil’s Advocates With Angels’ Wings. They can be used within any workshop or away-day process, especially when ideas, proposals and suggestions need testing out. They can be run quote formally, or as part of a much more informal exercise. Ideas can come from employees and tenants, suppliers or trustees in a housing organisation. A DAWAW panel can ensure that ideas are assessed fairly and realisticaly. Membership can be drawn from representative groups, experts and key involved people. Often a DAWAW panel is drawn from trustees and friendly, informed outsiders. This creates fairness in assessment of ideas, especially where competition for resources is tight


This approach might be quite new to you. What is a DAWAW panel and how does it work?

A DAWAW panel operates very much like a “crit” process in the arts, where a process of open critique is invited to offer feedback and reflection on a piece of artistic work or developing process, a DAWAW panel is something a bit smaller than a typical “crit” – a group of invited, well-motived, unafraid-to-be-honest people who will give frank (sometimes expert, sometimes deliberately naive) input and feedback on an idea, proposal, project, or individual/collective intention.

A DAWAW panel can be one-off, or can be something that becomes more regular and even permanent. Its membership can be fixed or membership can vary.

They key thing is that the DAWAW group is well-intentioned, but never compromised or diluted feedback. The play the devil’s advocate – asking all the taboo questions, raising the difficult issues, role-playing disaster and failure scenarios, pouring “scorn” on an idea in order to engender reflection in the idea-owners leading to INNOVATION and IMPROVEMENT.

The DAWAW panel can be invited to sit at any stage of an idea’s development. They are a group FORGIVEN-IN-ANTICIPATION of their often discomfort-making challenges. They ask tough questions. But they wear angels’ wings because they hover above ideas and projects that idea or project owners may have become too close to. They speak with a tongue of fire, which looks like a flaming sword of truth. Those tough questions provide a reality check, test feasibility, affordability. If the idea makes it through the honest questioning of the panel, it will be better for it.

DAWAW panels can often save ideas from disaster. Good DAWAW panels ensure that ideas are not based around collusions of mediocrity where a safety zone has been created in order to avoid the discomfort of challenge. They can be particularly useful in ideas that require time and commitment to be fully realised. A DAWAW panel can be raised usefully at the following stages of an innovative idea’s development:

1. Framing the question, challenging, the early draft on the canvas, the first dreams espoused into shared ideas – the DAWAW panel checks for taboos, for avoidance of consideration of discomforting factors, for gaps in thinking, for bias, for corruption in hidden motives, for playing too “safe” and setting ambition levels to low (or even too high). DAWAWS at this stage can both be reality and UNreality checks.

2. Evolving the ideas and concept, elaborating the dreams, further drafting – the DAWAW panel ensures the ideas are anchored to firm commitment and action, seeking our promises to deliver, with consequences for non-delivery, realism checks on whether the people are the right people, whether the place is the right place, whether the time and the timescales are real or even authentically wished for. The DAWAW hurls milestones as dreamers.

3. Moving into realisation and action – the DAWAW panel upholds the commitment, calls non-deliverers to account, names and shames in the name of realisation of the idea, suggests reframes, creates moments of purgatory, ensures guilt at non delivery becomes conscience and rebirth of the idea or project, suggests ejection and new team membership, suggests learning and identifies skills and commitment shortfalls. The DAWAW panel ensures the idea in action doesn’t become diluted.

4. Full realisation, implementation, commitment to final canvas, final drafting, foundation stones in the ground, the summit is reached – here the DAWAW panel identifies sabotage, ensures the idea does not die, that the situation doesn’t ever and fade, suggests occasional abandonment, burning of what has been under-achieved, points to changes in the environment rendering the idea out of date or even obsolete, suggesting further consequences for non-delivery, still upholding excellence and identifying energy leakage, commitment loss, and focuses on sometimes needed dramatic intervention.

DAWAW panels are best if they are about 3-5 people – trusted, respected, informed, courageous, good questions, movers, shakers and innovative thinkers.

Story 1

Members of the customer care staff of a medium sized housing association put forward a radical idea to automate maintenance visit booking by investing in an SMS system. A DAWAW panel was formed which included a mobile technology expert from the local chamber of commerce. Two trustees and the head of communications sat on the panel. The proposal was examined and many questions asked. The proposal owners were asked to do further researcher into cost-benefit analysis and also to explore alternative providers to the one suggested. A second panel was convened and a stronger case was made for the change as well as a different supplier proposed. Implementation was a success, more cost effective and created faster and more accurate communication for booking maintenance visits and tracking progress.

Story 2

A proposal was made to revise terms and conditions for tenants in a recent build in order to save costs and improve efficiency. A DAWAW panel rejected the proposal, after much questioning. The proposers agreed that the panel had raised significant legal concerns and went away, focusing on making better changes within existing terms and conditions. These included better induction of new tenants and the setting of more realistic expectations through clearer communication.


DAWAW panels work more effectively when the panel gives detailed feedback about its views, is evidence-based and formed of members who are trusted to be open, fair but also challenging and working in the best interests of tenants and other stakeholders.


About Paul Levy

Paul is a writer, thinker, facilitator, theatre-maker, and conversifier. He is the author of the book, Digital Inferno.

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